Crowds mass in Iraq’s Karbala for mourning ritual

Huge crowds of black-clad Shiite faithful massed in the Iraqi city of Karbala Saturday, crying and beating their chests to commemorate Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A).

The holy day of Ashura was marred by attacks in Pakistan and Bangladesh but got under way without incident in southern Iraq, where last year’s security fears have given way to political grievances.

Gathered under the golden dome of Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A) mausoleum in Karbala, devotees clutching paper tissues wailed and wiped their tears as they listened to accounts of Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A) death.

The dirge cantor himself repeatedly choked back tears as he sang the praise of Hazrat Imam Hussein (R.A), whose 680 AD killing by the armies of Yazid lies at the heart of the Sunni-Shiite schism.

Many Shiite worshippers travel from neighbouring Iran and other countries each year to visit the shrine, which lies about 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad.

Millions of others across the Shiite world, from Lebanon to south Asia, hold processions in their home towns, performing a variety of rituals, many involving flagellation.

Some beat their backs to a drumbeat using chains or blades. Others beat their heads with a sword until their faces and their white mourning robes are covered in blood.

The 10th day of the mourning month of Muharram has been marred by attacks in the past and Iraq deployed tens of thousands of security forces across the country.

“Our forces have set up a security plan that includes more than 20,000 members of the security forces,” Qais Khalaf Rahima, a senior army commander, told a news conference in Karbala on Friday.

They formed three concentric security rings around Karbala, banned traffic in the city centre three days ago and used special explosives detection equipment, he and the Karbala police chief explained.

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